Lord Tennyson’s Tithonus: Contrast Between Youth and Age, and Love and Death

Introduction:  Lord Tennyson’s Tithonus is based on a classical fable, on myth. Aurora, the goddess of Dawn, fell in; love with a handsome youth, Tithonus by name. At the request of the goddess, Zeus conferred the gift of immortality on Tithonus. The goddess, however, forgot to ask for the perpetuation of her lover’s youth and beauty. With the passage of time Tithonus grew frightfully old and enfeebled so much so that his life became insufferable. He then, requested the goddess take back her, gift and let him die but Aurora was helpless, as even “goddess themselves cannot recall their, gifts.” Throughout the poem Tithonus bitterly complains of immortality as every where there is the process of decay in nature, in man, terminating with death. It is he only cruel immortality consumes and find happy and the men that have the power to die.

A dramatic monologue: Highly ranked among the dramatic monologues of Tennyson, Tithonus does not attempt to depict much the characteristics of the individual as the special circumstances in which he is places. It is one of the poet’s most highly finished production, and is remarkable for its purity of tone its musical rhythm and its beauty of style.

Lord Tennyson
Various interpretations: Tithonus is one of the most beautiful conceptions of the mythological Greek mindset in harmonious verse a fable that may be interpreted variously; whether of the desolate sadness that would be the penalty of surviving the mere relic of a man, into a strange and indignant generation, a white hair’d shadow roaming like a dream, or as a parable upon the melancholy futility and disappointment that may follow the coupling of blooming youth with extreme old age --------
              How can my nature longer mix with thine?
              Coldly thy rose shadows bathe me, cold
              Are all thy lights, and cold my witness feet.
Tithonus may also be seen at the expression of a vain yearning for releases from the burden of living.

 Contrasts youth and age, love and death: The pathos of Tithonus’s life is rendered with compelling pity and tender. Stopford A Brooke Commenting on this poem remarks high acclaim for this poetry. Tithonus being old, ugly and feeble yet possessed by immortality yearns for death. It was in the fitness of things that men should stop to comply with what is ordained for him. Violating the decree of mortality issued by providence, undone Eros would renew her beauty every morning, for Tithonus. But Tithonus would forget everything if he could die. He would gladly go down to the dust whence he sprung.
        “Release me and restore me to the ground
          Thou seest all things, thou will see my grave.”

Tennyson’s Poetic Genius: With remarkable craftsmanship, Tennyson’s creates the imaginary land where Tithonus is supposed to abide. The description of the wakening of Aurora, the glimmer on her brow, her sweet looks slowly brightening before they dazzle the stars, the wild teams of horses shaking off darkness from their manes, and her departure are all beautifully realized. Yet though the place is far removed from the world of men, Tennyson has invested Tithonus with supreme human pathos. “Immortal age tied to immortal youth, the gift love to immortality the curse of him whom it was given the memory in decay, of youth and of love once passionate, the dreadful inability to love the dreadful inability to die – all is wonderfully expressed. In Keatsian mood it is half in love with easeful death.
A parallel to Ulysses: Simply speaking both Tithonus and Ulysses are dramatic monologues based on classical legend and spoken by old man. In other respects they are antithetical. Tithonus longs for death; Ulysses craves life piled on life. Where Ulysses is active, Tithonus decays, will-less, a grey shadow, once a man. For Ulysses a new world opens up as he looks about him to the horizon. But for Tithonus ‘the gleaming halls of morn’ bring only the painful renewal of an existence that is no life. This very existence too is dreamlike, a merely glimmering consciousness still agonizingly sensitive to the beauty of nature yet using even this beauty as a sort of anesthetic to during the conscious mind into that trance like condition where reality is bearable. Above all, where Tithonus enervates, Ulysses embraces. It does so, moreover with the command of rhetoric. Tithonus can do nothing to compete with this sort of thing.

Conclusion: The poem through the character of Tithonus aptly gives an idea of the poet's reflections on death, his hopes and wishes during that time and thus the poem is more mature a philosophy.

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